Review of Indian Paintbrush (Carson Chronicles #3) by John A. Heldt

My reviews for the first two book in the series:
Review of River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) by John A. Heldt
Review of The Memory Tree (Carson Chronicles Book 2) by John A. Heldt

indianpaintbrushDescription: Arizona, December 1943. After surviving perilous six-month journeys to 1889 and 1918, the Carsons, five siblings from the present day, seek a respite in their home state. While Adam and Greg settle down with their Progressive Era brides, Natalie and Caitlin start romances with wartime aviators and Cody befriends a Japanese family in an internment camp. The time travelers regroup, bury old ghosts, and continue their search for their missing parents. Then old problems return, new ones emerge, and a peaceful hiatus becomes a race for survival. In INDIAN PAINTBRUSH, the sequel to RIVER RISING and THE MEMORY TREE, seven young adults find love and adventure as they navigate the home front during the height of World War II.

 

Having read and reviewed John Heldt’s previous two books in the Carson Chronicles series, I was looking forward to reading this one for a couple of reasons. One, I very much enjoyed the first two books, and two, I love reading stories that take place during World War II.

The Carson siblings embark on their third time-travel journey in Indian Paintbrush while they continue their search for their time-traveling parents, Tim and Caroline. In the first two books, they traveled to 1889 and 1918, following an itinerary left behind by their father, which was to be used to find the parents in case something happened to them. While the Carson siblings have almost crossed paths with their parents, they haven’t yet been successful in finding them.

The search for the elder Carsons is just the setup, however. Much of the meat of the story revolves around the time period. Heldt doesn’t disappoint with rich historic detail about what life was like during World War II. Cody Carson, the youngest brother, is a medical supply driver, and one of his stops is a Japanese-American internment camp (Gila River Relocation Center). Another example of the time period is the aircraft-training facility, Thunderbird Field, where three of the Carson siblings find employment, and the sisters, Natalie and Caitlin, date airmen. These were real locations in Arizona. I particularly enjoyed the meeting of celebrities Bob Hope, Rita Hayworth, and Orson Welles at a nightclub table and the dancing to Big Band music and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Not only does Heldt have a firm handle on writing historical fiction, but his characters are deep, invigorating, and realistic. The interactions between the siblings and their in-laws (Adam and Greg, the two oldest brothers, are married to women they met in 1889 and 1918) are portrayed with believable dialogue, some humor, and just the right amount of emotion.

The Carsons don’t go looking for trouble, but it seems that trouble is determined to follow them no matter what era they’re visiting. They endured a flood in 1889 and forest fires in 1918, and now, with the war going on, national security is high. The draft is in full force, and there are three Carson brothers who are the right age to serve their country. Also, in a time where knowledge of future events could be especially dangerous if spilled, the Carsons must be careful who they trust.

One of my favorite parts of the story involved the romances between Natalie Carson and airman Nick Mays and the romance between Caitlin Carson and Casey McCoy. Natalie, the older sister who has had a bad or tragic past with boyfriends, falls in love with a 30-year-old airman who is training pilots in the States. Nick is a man who is troubled by the loss of his wife at Pearl Harbor to the Japanese and wishes to enlist to get his revenge. Casey is a cadet who is in training to fly for the Army Air Force and hopes to serve, which would mean leaving Caitlin stateside. He’s got Southern charm and is Caitlin’s first true boyfriend. Both sisters fall deeply in love with these men, and the men return the affections. The task of telling their men about the future and asking them to come with them and give up everything they’ve ever known mounts as the story unfolds.

While Cody is helping at the internment camp, he befriends young, beautiful Naoko Watanabe. When he finds out her mother is dying from ovarian cancer and knows that she could be treated in 2017, the conflict of bringing a whole family to the future surfaces.

As the story unfolds, the stakes get higher. We meet some old friends from the first two books, which is a real delight, but more than anything, the way Heldt handles the reader’s investment in the characters is a balancing act of precision. I stand in awe at his ability to grip my emotions. I cried my eyes out at times. I was wooed and swayed in the sweet and steamy romance scenes. I was on the edge of my seat during a chase down. I didn’t want the story to end because I was a part of it and loved being there with the Carsons, yet I needed to know what happens next.

I’m happy to know there are at least two more books to look forward to in the series, so I don’t have to say goodbye to this family yet.

A big 5 out of 5 stars!

Purchase Indian Paintbrush on Amazon

Review of Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery) by Vikki Walton

CKPreLaunch

Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery)

Description: Anne is excited for the opening of the Brandywine Inn. Kandi and Hope are her partners in the bed-and-breakfast in Carolan Springs, Colorado, where they also provide homesteading and herbal workshops for guests.
As soon as the guests arrive, it’s plain that the five old college chums have bad blood between them. When Anne finds a threatening note, it’s clear that someone is out for revenge. Then they find a guest dead. At first, the death appears to be natural, but suspicions begin to grow.
When a blizzard threatens the Inn, will it trap them all with a killer and no way out?
Cordial Killing is a classic who-dun-it with a twist. Set in the fictional small town of Carolan Springs, you will enjoy an armchair getaway into beautiful Colorado.

NewReleaseREVIEW: Cordial Killings is the second book in The Backyard Farming series by Vikki Walton. As a cozy mystery set in a bed and breakfast, I was looking forward to reading this book during the colder weather with a warm drink and a fire going. The setting is perfect for a cozy, and Walton doesn’t disappoint with descriptions of the food and drinks that the characters often partake. However, I wanted more description of the setting. A picturesque backdrop of Colorado Rockies in the winter, the blanket of glistening snow, the way freshly fallen snow coats tree branches…these are the beauties of winter that could have been played up. In addition, I would have loved more details on the decor of the rooms in the bed and breakfast. The layout of the house is described, but I feel that more details would have given it even more of that cozy feeling I’m looking for when I dive into this type of book.

The characters who run the bed and breakfast, Anne, Kandi, and Hope, are sweet–the type of ladies you would want for friends. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all the guests, a group of middle-aged women who were college friends and are reuniting for a weekend of learning how to make tonics, tinctures, and tisanes. The old friends (or frenemies?) are aptly and cutely called the Elizabeth Taylors, named Taylor, Liz, Lil, and Beth. The weekend is supposed to be for ladies only, but when Beth arrives with husband Edward, a womanizing cardiologist with more than one type of heart trouble, tensions build in the group, and old wounds open and fester.

I kept waiting for the first death, but it wasn’t until I was halfway through the book. I would have liked less banter between the women and for this important action step to occur much sooner, perhaps about twenty percent of the way into the story.  While the bad blood between the group is important backstory and plays into the plot, I think the story needs to move quicker in the beginning to get to the point of a cozy mystery: solving a murder or suspected murder.

Another death follows shortly, and from there, the pace really picks up. I was pleased with how the rest of the story flowed and played out. I admit I suspected the killer and turned out to be right, but as the sheriff and Anne interview the different guests, motives for each are presented and well thought-out. The ending was satisfying.

This was an easy, enjoyable read–a good book if you’re looking for something fun and not too serious.

4 of out 5 stars

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About the author:
Vikki’s first words were “I get it!” This attitude became her life-long mantra to always go after what she wants. It also helped her realize her desire to help others get what they really want out of life.
After spending years as a registered interior designer, Vikki began to write. While writing for periodicals, Vikki found herself on assignment interviewing publishers in Colorado Springs. It wasn’t long before the natural beauty of Colorado captured her heart.
After moving to Colorado, Vikki worked with nonprofits. However, she soon realized she needed more autonomy in her work.

Vikki started her own business as a nonprofit consultant and grant writer. She has helped nonprofits across the U.S. to receive millions of dollars for  their work. Yet, she realized doing one thing wouldn’t satisfy her for long.

Vikki became a Work Quilter™ combining her many passions to create multiple income streams. She started speaking and teaching adults on myriad and diverse topics around her knowledge, skills and passions.   She’s taught and spoken on Creative Writing, Design for Heart and Home, Fundraising Fundamentals , Suburban Homesteading, Permaculture, How to Get What You Really Want, and of course, Work Quilting. Two words that continually appear on instructor and speaker feedback forms are “engaging” and “knowledgeable.”
Born in Chicago, Vikki lived outside of Paris for a few years as a small child. That may account for her love of travel. She moved to Wichita with her parents before going on to live most of her life around the San Antonio, Texas area. She is the founder of #girlswantago and you can connect through Facebook or www.girlswantago.com 
Vikki is also an experienced, professional  global house and pet sitter.  
Vikki’s favorite genre is mystery so it wasn’t long before she had begun her first cozy mystery series.  Incorporating her love of suburban homesteading, or as some call it, backyard farming, Vikki’s first book is Chicken Culprit. 

You’ll most often find Vikki out hiking with her dog, outside gardening, traveling abroad, house or pet sitting, or writing her next book.

FirstinSeries
Marie’s Elderberry Cordial Recipe

Items Needed

  • Quart canning jar with lid
  • Funnel (large mouth)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Label or masking tape
  • Sharpie
  • Cheesecloth (optional)
  • Strainer (optional)
  • Decorative Bottle (optional)
Ingredients Amounts needed Comments
Elderberries 1.25 cup dried or 2 cups fresh For fresh, remove from stems.
Brandy 3 cups Can also use other alcohol but brandy is most commonly used.
Honey ¼ to ½ cup (or to taste) Vegans or those who don’t have access to good local raw honey can substitute maple syrup. Acquiring local honey will provide your cordial with its own unique flavor.
Optional
Cinnamon stick One Flavor along with Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory properties
Rosehips ¼ cup Extra Vitamin C
Ginger 1-2 tbsp grated fresh ginger Flavor along with Antioxidants

Instructions

  • Place elderberries (and any optional ingredients, if using) into quart jar.
  • Cover with brandy.
  • Add honey.
  • Stir with wooden spoon or put lid on and shake.
  • Place in dark, cool space (usually a cabinet will do) for three to four weeks.
  • If desired, strain with cheesecloth and using a strainer, put into a decorative bottle.
  • Or you can leave ingredients in jar.
  • In winter take 1-2 tbsp daily for immune-boosting. If ill, take 3-4 tbsp (basically a shot glass) a few times a day until symptoms improve. This cordial can also be used as a base for poor-tasting tinctures such as osha.
  • Can last for a year with fresh berries and longer if made with dried berries—if you have it that long!

Notes

Elderberry is a wonderful plant to have in your yard or on your property. It has many medicinal benefits and uses. The elderberry plant most commonly associated with immune-boosting and flu-fighting properties is the dark berry plant (Elderberry Sambucus Nigra). Elder flower is also used in elixirs, teas and food.  Elder was the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year in 2013. It’s usually harvested in September.

This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


Character interview:

Hope, can you share with our readers about yourself?AvailableFavBookstore

Certainly. I live above the shop of an herbal apothecary I own in Carolan Springs, Colorado. I’m also a medical doctor.. My mother, Faith, lives with me and I care for her. I’m an only child and I moved back to care for my mother when she started having health issues. I love living in a small town and I love Colorado. I’m in the perfect place for the life I want to live and the work I want to do. I have a new intern, Autumn, so that’s helping me to expand into other areas of interest.

You’ve recently opened a bed-and-breakfast with your friends. Can you tell us about that?

My father, Ralph Rogers, passed away, and I inherited his house. I didn’t know for years that Ralph was my father,  so it surprised me when he left me the home in his will. The house is a huge, old Victorian that probably stood by itself for many years before the other homes went up around it.  Anne, who has become a good friend, and Kandi, another friend, talked about the possibility of opening a bed-and-breakfast in the house. As they live on either side of the house, it works well for them. Anne has written and taught about suburban homesteading while Kandi is a great cook. Plus, I get to do teaching on herbs through workshops we hold there. It’s called the Brandywine Inn as Ralph was a big fan of Brandywine tomatoes. In the summer we open it up primarily for tourists and those who come for the homesteading fair. Then we can hold workshops in the spring and fall.

Tell us about where you live.

I live in the small mountain town of Carolan Springs in Colorado. (Don’t try to find it on a map as it’s only in the author’s imagination). I have to say the weather here in Colorado takes some getting used to. There can be a snowstorm in the morning and by the afternoon, lots of bright sunshine and warm temperatures. The key is to wear layers at any time of the year! I finally learned that after living here for a few years. I’m excited about spring because it’s that shoulder season when it’s normally crisp morning and sunny days. It’s a great time for hiking and seeing all the early wildflowers popping up and sometimes even mushrooms. We’re incorporating hike opportunities for our guests.

Can you tell us a bit more about Carolan Springs and its inhabitants?

It’s a fairly small town—around 3500 people—and just like everywhere else, you have many characters. My shop is along the main street filled with little shops and everyone is usually nice though we have some cranky folks just like any other town. I think Sheriff Carson and Anne should just get on with it and become a couple because they’re both so stubborn that they’d be a perfect match. But don’t tell them I said anything. Problem is they’ll probably end up with others. Oh well, what can you do? I’m sure you’ll find out more about the town’s residents in future stories.

You mentioned the author, what can you tell us about her?

Well, she was born in Chicago but spent most of her life in Texas—around the San Antonio area. But just like me, she loves Colorado’s mountains. She grows and uses herbs and making her own tinctures, tonics, and salves. She loves the basic edible herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, and others. A few of her favorite medicinal herbs are astragalus and osha for tinctures along with comfrey she uses in salves. In addition to writing mysteries, she’s also written nonfiction books. She loves everything about being a suburban homesteader or what some call backyard farming. She’s a certified permaculture designer, has chickens and beehives and gardens of various types.

Hope, can you tell us what’s next for the series?

We’ve all been talking about getting beehives for the property, so we can offer honey to our guests. Having bees on the property will also help with all the gardens we want to install. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of those being a part of the next book in the series.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I can’t think of anything. Though my mother (Faith) says she has a bad feeling about our opening weekend at the bed-and-breakfast. She has second-sight so that’s a bit disconcerting that she says she has a bad feeling. But I’m sure it’s nothing. I hope.

Excerpt: Opening of A Laughing Matter of Pain (Now Available on Amazon – RELEASE TODAY!)

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for purchase here.

 

Chapter 1

Damp. Dank. Dusty. Dirty.

It’s become a kind of game. I’m good at games. How many words that begin with the letter D can I come up with to describe this place?

Disgusting.

There’s another point for me. 1-0, Hank, old boy.

Of course, you never talk much. I’m lucky to get the occasional grunt from you, Hank.

I roll onto my side, the lumpy mattress beneath me protesting as it pushes back in all the wrong places. Hank’s sleeping, if you can call whimpering and moaning while he pisses himself sleeping. Nightmares, of course. Not that Hank ever has much to say about that.

But back to my game. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.

Dank. Yep, that smell of musty, rusty mold growing on mold has attached itself to my nose like a cold that doesn’t leave. It’s my constant companion, whether I want it or not. I suppose it’s like the games I’m so good at. So good, in fact, that when I lost one, boy, did I ever lose.

I don’t know what nightmares plague Hank. Maybe it’s what landed him here that’s got him all caught up in nightly visions of Hell. Rumors say he killed a man in cold blood, but a man who wets himself like that ain’t a cold-blooded killer in my book. Whatever his problems, I’ve got enough of my own.

I damn near laughed when the guard who swung by last week said Prohibition ended. Fourteen years of outlawing alcohol, and now part of the reason I’m here’s legal again? How’s that for justice?

Alcohol’s my problem. Yeah, I admit that, but that’s not my nightmare. Green accusing eyes, cruel laughter falling from a red-lipsticked mouth that kissed me silly too many times to count, and the red hair to match…like flames that burn my insides every time I close my eyes. I don’t have to be sleeping to see her. Red everywhere, from the smashed in windshield, to her smashed in face, decorated with shards of glass as her stunned expression stares back at me with those eyes. Always those damn eyes. Even empty, they accuse.

* * *

Eight years earlier…

It’s late, but the dusk is still dimly lighting the western sky. Overhead, the stars poke out from the black. Most wouldn’t believe I have the calm inside me to stop and notice. When the others aren’t looking, I sneak away into the back yard, that dewy grass tickling my neck as I lie in it and watch the stars.

Footsteps disturb my concentration. I bolt up, my eyes adjusting until a man’s silhouette rests against the freshly painted white siding of our house.

“What’re you doing, Harry?”

“What’s it matter? Is Ma looking for me? Tell her I already put the delivery away.”

“Ma said Mr. Morris was here hours ago and that you didn’t touch the stuff till after dinner.”

I try not to roll my eyes. “Then what’s the problem, Erik?”

My brother plants himself in the grass beside me and sighs. Even in the near darkness, he’s the pretty boy every girl wants. He got all of Pa’s charm and looks: the blond hair, the blue eyes, the smooth-talking way with the girls.

“It’s tomorrow,” Erik says. “Graduation.”

“Yeah? And? You haven’t shut up about it for weeks, even months. What, you scared you won’t be the center of everyone’s attention anymore? No more calls from girls? Hell–”

“Harry, if Ma heard you–”

“Well, Ma’s not here, is she? Virginia Williams called again, didn’t she? I heard you,” I say lightly, jabbing him in the side. “‘Oh, Ginny, honey…’” I raise my voice an octave, but Erik cuffs me roughly. “Jeez, what’s that for?”

“Can you be serious for a second, Harry?”

I raise my hands and eyebrows at the same time. “All right, I surrender. You wanna wrestle it out for old times’ sake? This grass has our names written all over it.”

Erik glares. “This was a mistake. Goodnight, Harry.”

As he retreats, he kitchen light goes off once he clicks the back door shut.

“What’s got his undies in a twist?” I mutter to the stars.

Erik and I were always scrapping in this yard as boys, always inseparable. In a few months, I’m gonna start tenth grade, and he’s off to college. Not only does he have the looks and the ways with girls all right, but he’s got smarts and talent on the field. Star pitcher of Benny Frankie High in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sighing, I stand and brush the grass from my pants. I head inside and find my annoying little sister standing on the landing of the stairs. It’s Hannah, the older little sister. Irma’s the other one, who’s still so young that she really is little.

“Hey, Hannah-panna,” I say, smirking.

“Oh, stop it, Harry. You think you’re so funny.”

“Actually, yeah.”

“Ma was looking for you.”

“Wow, I’m a popular guy. I almost feel like Erik, I’m so popular. Did a pretty doll give me a call?”

Hannah places her hands on her hips in a manner that’s suited her well for years and sticks her tongue out. I laugh as she turns and stomps up the stairs.

“You know, for a young lady, you’re pretty immature,” I call up after her.

I quietly chuckle to myself. Hannah’s always easy to get a rise out of. Sobering, I climb the stairs, and when the third step from the top creaks, I tip my imaginary hat at it.

“Goodnight, old friend.”

I turn for the second door on the right, ready to see my esteemed brother. The door to my parents’ room opens and Ma steps out.

“There you are.”

I stare back at my twin–well, except that Ma is a good thirty-five years older than me and female, but the mousy-brown hair, the square jawline, and the plain face, yeah…thanks, Ma. I got Pa’s baby blues, at least, but I ain’t complaining, I swear.

I pretend to yawn. It’s a convincing act, my mouth all wide and my eyes screwed shut, but Ma doesn’t buy into my cheap acts.

“Tomorrow is an early day. I trust you’re on your way to bed.”

I smile. “Righto. Erik’s big day. ‘Night, Ma.”

I kiss her gently on the top of the head. I’m taller than her now, so she tilts her head up.

“What was that for?” she asks.

The question’s so simple, but it’s not. Deep down, just like the times I seek out the stars by myself, some part of me reaches for my mother. I laugh instead.

“Can’t a son give his old ma a kiss? Maybe I’ll lay it on sloppy next time, like Flossie.”

Ma isn’t buying this, either. She doesn’t seem interested in anything I’m selling these days, but maybe what she’s buying into is more than just cheap tricks and one-liners.

“Harry, are you all right?” Her glistening eyes search me.

This look unnerves me. All the times Ma’s glared at me don’t probe me the way those hazel eyes see me now, like stripping me bare to my soul.

I shrug and smile. That’s what she expects. What they all expect. Why give her anything else? “I’m fine.”

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for $4.99 here.My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

Review of The Memory Tree (Carson Chronicles Book 2) by John A. Heldt

memorytreeThe Memory Tree is the second in the Carson Chronicles series, immediately following the events of the first book, River Rising. Please read my review of the first book here.

In book two of the five-part series (books three through five still to be released), we follow the Carson family from 1889 to 1918. The five Carson children, all young adults, pass through the portal in Sedona, Arizona, on the summer solstice, following their missing time-traveling parents’ schedule. Since the Carson children were unsuccessful in locating their parents in 1888-89, they must continue their journey in 1918.

The riveting story is told from different character points of view (third person limited) in each chapter. The oldest of the clan, Adam, is 28 and is happily married to his Irish bride, Bridget, who he met at a hotel in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1888. They settle in the Duluth, Minnesota, area, where the whole family at first congregates at the beginning of the novel when they strategize their next moves. The Carsons have ancestors in several areas of the country, one of which is Duluth, and knowing that Tim and Caroline, the parents, intend to visit several of their relatives while in 1918, the kids decide their best option would be to split up in those different locations and try to intercept them. Adam and Bridget wind up moving into a remote cabin next to one of their ancestors. Life seems peaceful for them with good news on the horizon, but then all that is rocked.

Greg, age 26, the next oldest, is the adventurer in the family. He agrees to travel to Baja California. He has to illegally cross the Mexico border. He is already a wanted man from a shootout 29 years earlier, and once in Tijuana, his troubles don’t lift. He meets vivacious, gun-toting Patricia O’Rourke while there, but he once again finds himself caught up with the law and on the run.

Natalie, age 24, is the oldest sister, and is the independent, ambitious journalist of the family. She takes a job with the Minneapolis Post after being selected for her impressive job of interviewing a World War I soldier. She is given the opportunity to go to France to be on the frontlines to interview soldiers directly in combat, and she takes the trip, meeting dashing Lieutenant Tom Jackson among the injured soldiers in France. Despite the war drawing to a close, the horrors of battle are never far and have devastating consequences for some of the men Natalie has come to know and love.

Twins Cody and Caitlin, age 18, travel to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where they meet up with their friend (and Cody’s first love) Emma Bauer Jackson from 1888. Emma is overjoyed to see them and is let in on the Carsons’ time-traveling secret. They meet an ancestor, but so far, there is no sign of their parents passing through Pennsylvania.

Tim and Caroline spend much of their time with Caroline’s ancestors in Mexico and come to learn of Greg being close by. They begin traveling throughout the United States, just on the tails of their children. They leave a message in several newspapers in the ad section that they will meet them in Sedona on December 22, and while the kids see this note, Tim and Caroline are unaware if their children ever see it.

The book is a huge journey of several paths crossing and dividing, of the importance of friends and family, of loss due to war, illness, and natural disaster, and of a family trying to overcome the challenges they face to find each other against the odds. John A. Heldt tells a masterful tale that is carefully researched for historical accuracy, with regards to events, places, and period details. His characters are engaging, heartfelt, sometimes humorous, and the type of people you would want in your family. He always brings the narrative back to the importance of staying together as a family, of the love and hope that keep humanity persevering.

It was a pleasure to read this historical fiction book about time travel and family. I look forward to reading and reviewing the next one.

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase The Memory Tree on Amazon.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST THE OCCASIONAL BOOK REVIEW AND A NEW BLOG POST GOES UP THE LAST FRIDAY OF THE MONTH. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for pre-order here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

Review of A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son by Ellie Midwood

motherlandDescription: Poland, 1939. 

A country, torn by the occupation of two unlikely allies – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. 
On the border of this newly divided territory, a young Wehrmacht Unteroffizier, Werner and a Soviet Military Interpreter, Kira meet and fall in love against all odds. 
Both forced into the military against their will, they wish for one thing only – a peaceful life together. Everything is set for Kira to defect and marry Werner… 

But the German army invades the Soviet Union, and now the two lovers are forced to fight against each other on the opposite sides of the frontline; trying to keep their humanity as more and more atrocities are committed by both armies. They have to decide if their love is stronger than the devastation surrounding them or succumb to the hate as sworn enemies should.

Partially based on true events, this novel will take you on the unforgettable journey through war-torn countries, where hope can be lost in no-man’s-land, and one will have to go to great lengths not to lose sight of it.

I have had the pleasure of reading two of Ellie Midwood’s books previously and enjoyed them thoroughly, and A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son is no different. Reading one of her books is a total-immersion experience into life during World War II. Midwood’s vast knowledge of that time period is remarkable and is a big part of what gives her stories depth: the intensity of the backdrop of a horrific war. She doesn’t skimp on the details of the brutality of war, either. What she writes is gut-wrenchingly real.

The second element that gives her stories amazing depth is her characters. She develops them to such a degree that I cannot help but laugh, cry, and scream with them. In this story, we follow the lives of lovers Kira and Werner, a Russian woman and a German man who fall in love in 1939 right before Germany declares war on Russia.

The story is told in an alternating point-of-view style, where one chapter is told from Kira’s point of view and the next chapter from Werner’s. From this first-person perspective, I get into the head of the characters even more. They start out as idealistic young people, who believe in love and that they have their whole lives ahead of them to do what they wish. They will marry and be happy. The war devastates their lives, throwing them into the pile with millions of others whose lives are also being ruined by the horror of war.

Can they still come out of all this after the war is through as the same people? After seeing and performing awful deeds? After experiencing some of the worst moments of humanity and their own lives? Lovers whose countries dictate they are enemies?

Kira is enlisted as a sniper in the Red Army. Werner serves as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht. The story follows the events of the war through its end in 1945 on the eastern front. It’s easy to look back at history and want to blame the Germans, to mark them at the bad guys, but when you realize that many of these soldiers were just young man, pretty much boys, it breaks my heart. So much loss of life for both sides, which is clearly shown in this story. So much senseless death. It’s no wonder both Kira and Werner question if they are who they were when they met, if love and hope still hold any meaning in a world shattered by such darkness.

The stakes are high, ridiculously, impossibly high. I kept turning the pages because I needed to believe that the inherent goodness in people, especially Kira and Werner, would win, that victory of the Allies during the war is one thing, but getting down to the level of person-to-person, victory of the heart matters, too. Love wins, right?

I happily give this book five stars!

Favorite quotes:

“You’re somebody’s son too. Under those uniforms, you’re all the same.” That simple Russian peasant knows more about life than the most enlightened of our philosophers…

A truly strange phenomenon war is, which always starts due to a lack of understanding. Yet, once former enemies find each other in such close proximity and strike a conversation for the first time, when the first bread is broken to feed yesterday’s foe, all animosity suddenly loses its power over the men who used to tear into each other’s throats, and humanity renews its hope in itself once again.

Purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Review of The Beat on Ruby’s Street by Jenna Zark

rubySynopsis: The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.

It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home.

As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.

Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Beat on Ruby’s Street is a novel intended for middle-grade students, as the protagonist is an 11-year-old girl named Ruby, and the story is told from first-person point-of-view. Ruby’s voice is realistic for a girl her age, and I think this book reads appropriately for kids around the same age.

The details of New York in the late 1950s and the Beat Generation of the time are also fleshed out well in the backdrop. There’s a certain freedom to being a kid 60 years ago that I feel no longer applies nowadays. A girl like Ruby can wander the streets with her friends for hours at a time and be safe. I am reminded of stories my mom told me about how far she’d ride her bike or how she’d ride on public transportation when she was about Ruby’s age and be gone all day, yet her parents didn’t have to worry.

Ruby is also an aspiring poet. She wants badly to meet famous poets like Jack Kerouac and is on her way to one of his readings when…

The freedom Ruby experiences is threatened when she is accused of stealing fruit, however. A social worker steps in and begins to question Ruby’s home life. The reader discovers that Ruby’s parents aren’t married. Their apartment isn’t kept up. Her dad, Gary Daddy-o, is a musician who is on the road for weeks at a times. Her mom, Nell-Mom, is an artist is is oblivious to the comings and goings of Ruby and her brother, Ray. Ruby and some of her friends attend “school” at a store called Blue Sky, where they learn some stuff from the owners, Sky and Blu, but they aren’t being properly educated.

Everything Ruby thought was true and normal about her life is suddenly threatened. She spends some time in a children’s home. Her childhood innocence is ripped away from her. To see the shortcomings of adults through a child’s eyes is a unique perspective. I remember when I was a kid thinking my parents knew everything and that I would understand everything about life once I was grown up. To have that worldview shattered, to realize your parents are far from perfect and that your home isn’t the nice place you thought is scary and also realistic, a part of growing up.

This is a quick read. Being much older than the intended audience, I found the novel had its charms and was good for middle-grade readers, and yes, it reminded me of what it was like for me when I was 11 or 12, but I didn’t get much else out of this novel. It’s a good story, but not great. It doesn’t necessarily stand out from much else I’ve read, but it was enjoyable enough.

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Review of The Other Half of Me by Jennifer Sivec

theotherhalfSummary: Maggie and Sam’s love was forever, until it wasn’t.

Is it ever too late to go back home?

Maggie Whitaker had always dreamed about the same boy even though she’d never met him.

A loner, with an overly critical mother and a head full of self-doubt, she has spent most of her life isolated. That is, until she meets Trip. He becomes her only friend until he cruelly betrays her, making her feel even more alone.

Sam has endured far more than anyone has ever realized. When he meets Maggie, he feels as though he knows her immediately. They fall for each other hard and fast and Maggie feels as though she’s been waiting for him her entire life.

Their life together is beautiful as they make plans for a future together, until Sam is in a horrible accident and suddenly everything changes.

When Maggie finds herself alone with no explanation, she does her best to move on with her life. She realizes that erasing Sam from her heart is close to impossible, until Dylan.

As she’s finally about to have her chance at love, the unexpected happens and Maggie must decide if love is ever just enough, or if she needs more to be complete.

Caution: This story contains themes of sexual assault, addiction, and mild sexual situations.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I am the first to admit that I am a sucker for a good romance and a big fan of damaged characters who are trying to rebuild their lives. Being an author myself, I write about these themes, so as I opened this book and knew that it was highly rated, I was looking forward to a great story.

What I came away with was a good story, not a great one. I didn’t feel the ground move beneath me the way I was expecting when going into this.

Maggie lacks self-confidence because of her critical mother. Her mother is passive-aggressive. I often wanted to smack her for the rude tone and underlying jabs in what she says to her own daughter, even if her words hold some good stuff. So when unpopular Maggie, at age 15, finally attracts the attention of a boy at school, she is completely taken in. Poor Maggie is ruined by Trip, a boy who wanted one thing and one thing only from her.

That type of encounter leaves a scar on a girl’s heart, making it hard to open up to another guy. I felt badly for her and wanted her to find real love.

A few years pass and she goes to college, where she meets Sam. Sam is a jock who doesn’t think he’s smart and asks her to tutor him. He is popular with the girls, so Maggie is cautious when she agrees to help him. Their relationship quickly grows deeper, and they express that they feel they have always known each other. Next thing you know, Sam and Maggie are engaged and a few more years have passed.

This is the point where I felt disappointed. I would have loved to have read more about their relationship over those years. As this is a novella and therefore not a long story, it would have benefited from being developed more and made into a novel. I just didn’t believe their feelings and claims of having always felt a connection. That was too cliche, cheapening the bond that could have been expanded through more storytelling. There was a lot of telling and not a lot of showing, making the pacing off during this part of the book.

Then Sam is in a terrible car accident and is laid up in bed, unconscious. Maggie is left wondering if he will ever wake up. This tragedy pulled at my heartstrings. Then Maggie goes through a dreamlike sequence of visiting different parts of Sam’s childhood and seeing how his father walked out on them when he was young and how is mother had drug problems. Sam never felt like he deserved Maggie.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but more years pass. Maggie loves again, but as before, the pacing was off. The author seems to rush to get to the part of the story she wants to tell the most and skips over years of Maggie’s life where she could have shown the reader how her heart healed (although not completely) and how she managed to fall in love again. I feel cheated by not being given these details.

However, the end does save a lot of my criticisms. There is some lovely dialogue between Maggie and Sam, some downright gut-wrenching, raw emotion. The story delivered in the end. This was a short, easy read, but I wanted more of a good thing. I wanted this love story to be something that tore my heart to pieces and then mended it back together again. What I got was some damage to my heart and an easy fix.

4 out of 5 stars

Purchase The Other Half of Me (The Coming Home Series Book 1) on Amazon

 

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.